April Fools’ Day (sometimes called All Fools’ Day) is an informal holiday celebrated every year on April 1. Popular since medieval times, the day is not a national holiday in any country, but it is widely recognized throughout European cultures and celebrated as a day when people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other, called April fools. Hoax stories are also often found in the press and media on this day.
Precursors of April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, held March 25, and the Medieval Feast of Fools, held December 28, still a day on which pranks are played in Spanish-speaking countries.
In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392), the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two. Modern scholars believe that there is a copying error in the extant manuscripts and that Chaucer actually wrote, Syn March was gon. Thus, the passage originally meant 32 days after April, i.e. 2 May, the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in 1381. Readers apparently misunderstood this line to mean “March 32”, i.e. April 1. In Chaucer’s tale, the vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox.
In 1508, French poet Eloy d’Amerval referred to a poisson d’avril (April fool, literally “April fish”), a possible reference to the holiday In 1539, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on April 1 In 1686, John Aubreyreferred to the holiday as “Fooles holy day”, the first British reference On April 1, 1698, several people were tricked into going to theTower of London to “see the Lions washed”.
In the Middle Ages, up until the late 18th century, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25 (Feast of the Annunciation) in most European towns. In some areas of France, New Year’s was a week-long holiday ending on April 1. Many writers suggest that April Fools originated because those who celebrated on January 1 made fun of those who celebrated on other dates. The use of January 1 as New Year’s Day was common in France by the mid-16th century, and this date was adopted officially in 1564 by the Edict of Roussillon.